Stochastic Sempiternity

Bruce Charlton suggests in a recent post that the eternal pre-mortem existence of the human soul might be a way to provide room for our free agency in a system of things that seems otherwise, as wholly determinate in and by its derivation from some past, and ultimately by and from God, to provide none. If we are eternal, he argues, then obviously we are not determined by anything other than ourselves, and so are free – free, among other things, to Fall.

There are some fatal problems with this suggestion. But hidden within it is the germ of a solution to the problem Dr. Charlton has noticed. All that is needed to unpack it is to apply certain distinctions.

It is crucial first to be clear on the difference between existing eternally and existing sempiternally – i.e., everlastingly. Sempiternality is enjoyed by angels, humans, and indeed facts of all sorts. God, too, is sempiternal, but unlike all other facts, he is also eternal: prior to duration as such. Eternal beings are all sempiternal, but not vice versa.

There is no problem, no paradox in the notion that a thing should have a beginning and no end. Indeed, we rely on facts to be sempiternal. If they weren’t, there could be no such thing as a past, or therefore either a present or a future. On Wednesday morning I had not flown to Chicago on April 24, 2013; by Wednesday evening, my having flown to Chicago on April 24, 2013 had become a fact that will never ever change. Its permanence is everlasting. In virtue of its facticity, it is sempiternal.

But because it came to be, and because it is contingent, its facticity is not eternal. Eternalities are nowise contingent, for there is no conceivable state of affairs in which they could be otherwise than they are. They exist necessarily, and immutably. Thus when we say that a thing is eternal, part of what we must mean is that it cannot change, or therefore come into being. So nor therefore can things that are subject to change be eternal. When I change at time t (from being, say, the Kristor who had not flown to Chicago at t -1 to the Kristor who had), the me of all moments prior to t is superseded by others for whom it is past and gone. It is not therefore eternal.

If the soul is eternally actual, then it cannot change, and we are not free to make decisions over the course of our lives. If it is free, then it cannot be eternally actual. But what this means is that the conundrum of creaturely freedom is not resolved by the supposition that we exist eternally, for if we are eternal, then none of our decisions are free at all – they are not, that is to say, true decisions in the first place. They do not in that case even exist.

Not only does supposing our eternality fail to solve the problems of freedom, or therefore of evil, but it introduces grave new problems. If we are co-eternal with God, then we are nowise dependent upon him, and he is not therefore either our Creator, or our Lord. But in that case, he is not God, properly speaking; indeed, in that case, there is no God. The actual eternality of the human soul entails atheism.

There is a way out, provided we recall that the soul is the form of the human being, rather than the actualization of the form of the human being, or of the mind or life of the human being. The form of a human, then, considered as a pure potentiality, can exist eternally, as an idea in the mind of God, and may then eventually be actualized contingently, and sempiternally, in and as a concrete real, a living person. Indeed, the form of each human must necessarily have existed eternally, somehow or other; for any of us ever to have come into being, it must have been always possible for a being with just such a form as ours to come into being. Our forms, then, had to exist eternally as possibilities,[1] in order ever to be actualized anywhere. And this is so for all creatures. In order for any being to exist at any time or place, it must eternally be possible for just that occasion to come to pass.

Bruce and the source he quotes say that it seems like a bootless dodge to suggest that God created us free. But they give no reason for this seeming, and I can’t see what the reason might be. On the contrary, as Bruce himself has often noted, freedom seems to be inextricably given with our existence. Many philosophers – both determinists and their adversaries – have remarked that it is not possible for us to understand ourselves as having no power of decision or action. The determinists must spend a great deal of ink arguing that our native, ineluctable conviction of our freedom is illusory (it is no coincidence, as we shall see in a moment, that these same determinists generally argue also that in the final analysis our experience and our existence are likewise illusory).

In this I believe they are doomed to failure. There is no way for a being to be different from God unless it is able to do, and so be, something other than what God wills it to do and be; no way for it to be other than God unless it is inherently capable of independent causal origination. If God didn’t create free creatures, he didn’t create at all.

The difficulty of the determinists arises from their intuition that what we do and are is exhaustively accounted for, and therefore completely caused, by our antecedents; so that we are simply generated by our histories. If this were so, we wouldn’t be doing anything, wouldn’t be adding anything of our own to the causal flux. We would then be *nothing but* our past, a mere epiphenomenon. And what makes no causal contribution to the system of things has no participation therein; so far as other things are concerned, it does not exist. What adds nothing to its past, then, what makes no contribution to history, does not actually exist.

Thus for a thing to exist actually there must in its eventuation be some creative play, some room for it to make what it shall of its causal antecedents.

From outside an event – this being the only perspective upon it that is possible to any other –  its original contributions to history, if such there be, must appear to be uncaused, and merely random; for, arising as they do from within the event itself, their causes or reasons will not be discoverable among its actual antecedents. Such procedures are called “stochastic.” Quoting Wikipedia:

Stochastic comes from the Greek word στόχος, which means “aim.” It also denotes a target stick; the pattern of arrows around a target stick stuck in a hillside is representative of what is stochastic. [“Stick” and “στόχος” are obviously the same word.]

In probability theory, a stochastic system is one whose state is non-deterministic. The subsequent state of a stochastic system is determined both by the system’s predictable actions and by a random element. A stochastic process is one whose behavior is non-deterministic; it can be thought of as a sequence of random variables. Any system or process that can be analyzed using probability theory is stochastic.

From within an event, on the other hand, its original contribution to the world will be quite apparent as the admixture of qualia that is peculiarly its own, which it recognizes as itself, and that makes it just the thing that it is, and different from all other events. And because in constituting itself as some coordination of its causal antecedents an event renders itself a definite thing, with definite, discernible relations to its antecedents, ex post we can understand its causal relations to its antecedents by taking our own measure of that constitution. Ex post, we can see how the causal inputs to an event are related to its causal output – to, i.e., the actual thing that it is. We cannot on this basis alone justify an inference that the event is fully determined *by* its causal antecedents. All we may infer is that it is fully determined *with respect to* those antecedents, and ordered thereto.

Thus while we are not free to infer that events are predetermined, it is open to us to suppose that they are *eventually* determined – that, i.e., a given event is rendered definite by virtue of its own idiosyncratic completion of the act of its becoming.

The basic difference between the determinist and stochastic views is that the former understands events as nothing more than the output of their histories, so that the procedure that generates events is just the past, and nothing but the past; whereas the latter views events as being themselves active procedures, that really do something with their inheritances from their actual worlds. Determinism argues that while it may seem as though there are archers shooting, really there are not. Stochasm insists that there are certainly archers shooting: real archers who are really taking up their stances, grasping the deliveries of their environments, adjusting themselves to their aim at the target, and loosing.

The determinist perspective is implicitly naturalist, even in its theist versions. It takes the past to be the fundamental matrix of becoming, and in its theist versions must treat God at last as one fact of nature among others, surpassing all other beings in excellence and power, but with them fully included in the coordinate system of all things.

The stochastic perspective on the other hand is implicitly supernaturalist. It takes eternity to be the fundamental matrix of becoming, and understands history as therefore open at the bottom of every juncture to supernatural influx, and to the ubiquity of the opportunity for the advent in history of the altogether new. In its theist versions (there are, mirabile dictu, some Platonic realists who are nevertheless atheists), it understands God as the first source of all facts and of their natures, and as including the coordinate system of all things.[2]

From the perspective of the stochastic view of becoming, we may understand the deterministic view as applicable and useful in special cases, namely those in which we undertake analysis of the world ex post. Ex post analyses are by far the most common, for we are usually concerned to understand what has happened in our environments, and we can after all apprehend only those things that already exist. The only thing we can understand from an ex ante perspective is our own experience of what it is like to become: to feel, to compare and understand, and to decide. And the object of introspection is notoriously squirrelly and difficult to grasp (mostly because we try to grasp it with the familiar and handy intellectual instruments of ex post analysis).   

Ex post analysis is as common, and as habitual to us, and therefore comfortable, as Newtonian mechanical analysis. Both are susceptible of persuasion to determinism. Ex ante analysis is as uncommon, and as difficult for us, as quantum mechanical analysis. Both the ex ante and the quantum mechanical modes of analysis are open to persuasion to a stochastic understanding of becoming.

But while ex post analysis is far more common, familiar and comfortable, clearly the analysis of experience as such is logically prior to the analysis of whatever it is that we experience. Thus an analysis of reality that discovers no room therein for experience per se – for mind, for intention, for meaning or signification, for purpose, aim, volition or free moral action, for qualia as real – and so finds itself absolutely incapable of any analysis of experience, or therefore of our lives as actually lived, is blind to the very most basic aspects of reality, and the most important. Seeing nowhere any role in the world for mind, such a doctrine cannot understand reality as including doctrines as such, or itself in particular. Determinism devours itself. Thus the determinist ex post analysis of reality is inherently inadequate.

We are therefore forced to a stochastic, ex ante metaphysic – to stochasm. For stochasm, creaturely freedom is nowise difficult to comprehend, being inherent in every procedure of becoming. And where there is freedom, there is freedom to err – to shoot the arrow and miss the stick. The Greek term we translate from the NT as “sin” is hamartia:

Hamartia (μαρτία) is a word most famously used in Aristotle’s Poetics, where it is usually translated as a mistake or error in judgment. In modern discussions of tragedy, hamartia has often been described as a hero’s “tragic flaw.” The word hamartia is rooted in the notion of missing the mark (hamartanein) and covers a broad spectrum that includes ignorant, mistaken, or accidental wrongdoing, as well as deliberate iniquity, error, or sin.

As free, a stochastic procedure is inherently prone to error – to defect, disorder, chaos – in a word, to evil. It is not absolutely destined to a Fall, but – there being so many more ways to miss the stick than to hit it – its tragic failure is quite likely.


[1] Whitehead calls them “pure potentialities of becoming,” the purity thereof being purity of any tincture of actuality.

[2] NB that God’s ontological inclusion of the whole coordinate system of things, as subvenient thereto and ground thereof, does not forfend his concurrent participation in the coordinate system of things, either pervasively (as, e.g., the Holy Spirit operating throughout the world, or the Paracletic Spirit of Truth operating particularly in the Church and her members), or individually (as YHWH, whether burning in a bush and speaking from the whirlwind, or incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth and walking in the Garden in the cool of the day). That God is the eternal, absolute ground of existence as such does not prevent his engagement as a concrete personal agent in history, who can interact temporally with other beings.

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24 thoughts on “Stochastic Sempiternity

  1. An example of a stochastic system is the quantum immanent reality and the notion of “vector of state” (wave function): we can hardly foresee a tendency, but never predict an outcome or establish statistics patterns which could lead to a law abidance logic (as science is based upon the facts of the past).

    It is amazing how the old Aquinas was quite right!

    When we look at our past it seems that every fact was determined and could not happen in another way. But if we look at our present, we will see that our perspectives of the future are open and we are free to choose our own path. Total determinism is an illusion.

    • A useful corrective to this faith in quantum mechanics as relevant to the problem of free will is Stanley Jaki’s book “Miracles and Physics”.

      In short, nature is deterministic but free will is rational and thus supernatural. The possibility of free will requires nature to be deterministic. The Copenhagen interpretation relies on an equivocation and is thus fallacious. It assumes that if a property can not be measured exactly, then it does not exist exactly. The equivocation was noticed by a Mr Turner in Nature 1930 but it did not seem to have made any impact on leading physicists.

      • A useful corrective to this faith in quantum mechanics as relevant to the problem of free will is Stanley Jaki’s book “Miracles and Physics”.

        Thank You for recommending me to the faith of Stanley Jaki against the faith of the Copenhagen school which is different from the faith of David Bohm and different in relation of that of Eugene Wigner’s. After all, “The greatest faith is that of a scientist because it is unconfessable” (Roland Omnès).

        The chance that the planet Earth suffers a quantum leap and rotates another star in the universe is calculated on 10^120, and this number is a “mathematical impossibility”, which means “near zero”.

        That is why you say that “nature is deterministic”, but in fact it is not bearing in mind that 1 in 10^120 is not equal to zero.

        As Giovanni Fidanza aka Saint Bonaventure put it, nature is not eternal and therefore is finite. If the universe was infinite instead, it would not be possible to put any order upon it, because in the infinite there is no FIRST and therefore there is no ORDER. So, God created the universe finite according to an ORDER of His will. But even this order can be changed by the Creator Itself, and this means that it does not exist a FULL or a TOTAL determination in nature material order.

        So, the ORDER of the universe does not necessarily imply FULL determinism.

      • “The chance that the planet Earth suffers a quantum leap and rotates another star in the universe is calculated on 10^120″

        What is the scientific status of this statement?
        Why should I believe that the Earth behaves according to QM but for its size?. Note that QM was formulated for a small system interacting with a measuring device. Its extrapolation to large systems must be justified separately.

        I again emphasize that the mystery of free will should not be confounded with quantum mechanics or the determinism or not of the physical universe.

      • What is the scientific status of this statement?

        Empiricism only offers empiric solutions.

        For example, for centuries the theory of blood circulation was accepted as per Galeno’s theory, which stated that new blood is produced by the body at every second, because it was not possible at the time to verify in loco the blood circulation.

        In the 16th century the English William Harvey used logic and math calculation (math formalism) to demonstrate the blood circulation without having “to see” it empirically.

        As for the aforementioned number 10^120: it is the Nature Cosmological Constant as per the biophysicist Alfred Gierer (please check the name on google), and therefore I am talking about science here, although not an empirical science. Gierer has published some good scientific books which may be available at the nearest bookstore.

        The macroscopic world — the world that “we see” — is a product of one of two great forces of nature, which is the Entropic Force of Gravity. The other great force is the Quantum force. Both forces constitutes a Whole, and therefore, in theory and ad liminem, there’s no fundamental rational reason to divide Reality between “macroscopic” and “microscopic”, unless we want to study only a part of Reality itself.

  2. Kristor,
    Nature is deterministic while supernatural is rational and not stochastic. Also ponder the objections to Copenhagen interpretation by Father Jaki. There is an ontological hole in Copenhagen that is fatal to the realist philosophy as noticed by Einstein. You can not both accept quantum mechanics and realism.

    • Bedarz, thanks for your comment. I shall have to disagree – or rather, by clarifying show how what you say is not in conflict with what I say, provided that your statements are properly qualified.

      You write,

      Nature is deterministic while supernatural is rational and not stochastic.

      What I would say rather is that, from the perspective of any creaturely occasion, the actual past is determined, whereas the inactual – the future, the virtual, the as yet only conceptual, the eminently real, the ideal, the proto-real – as not yet definitely actual, is not actually determinable. Or, in plain English, you can’t know the future, because unlike the past it doesn’t yet actually exist to be known.

      Because the number of possible futures that relate to the history of our world in orderly fashion – the number of futures compossible with our world, and thus really potential thereto – is larger than one, the future is not definite, even though the range of potential futures – the number thereof, the properties of each, and so forth – is indeed definite.

      We can say that the future evolves deterministically only in the sense that we can say that the range of potential futures is definite. Which one of those futures will eventuate is not definite, and the selection of specific paths is not therefore deterministic.

      If the actual creaturely past simply generated what will happen in the next moment or two, like a machine, and without any input from the supernatural realm, then in principle we could find out what will happen in the next moment or two. But because the range of potential futures is greater than one, we can be sure that it does not; so that we can’t.

      The fact that there is always more than one potential future *just is* the fact that there is supernatural input to every creaturely occasion. Every single one of those potential futures involves the introduction of novel occasions that have never before been seen. Each occasion is at its birth really quite new, and quite different from any of its predecessors – it has to be, because each new occasion must take causal account of a different population of predecessors than any of its predecessors.

      Now, just as you can’t get something from nothing, so you can’t get the occasion I am experiencing right now from a state of affairs in which there is no occasion exactly like the occasion I am experiencing right now. The past, that has not this present moment actually in it, cannot on its own produce this present moment. So, each occasion is a creation ex nihilo. Thus every moment is infused by supernatural grace, by virtue of having its ultimate causal origin in God.

      We are rooted in God; we flower in time. God creates the archer; the archer takes up his stance, aims at his target, and looses. All the potential flights are there in God. The arrow takes one of them, impelled by the archer’s intention, and by the shape of his decision, which constitutes him as the archer he is at that moment, who is taking the shot that is his very own.

      So, there is indeterminacy in the generation of occasions due to the fact that before they have come to pass they are not definite, and could come to pass in more than one way. But there is also indeterminacy in becoming that arises due to a fundamental epistemological limit on creaturely knowledge of the past. It arises from the fact that our computational powers are finite, while the causal factors of the next moment or two are infinite. Of any actuality, you can form an infinite number of true statements. Think even of just the number of true statements you could make specifying the relations of an occasion to all of its inertial factors. A finite computer can’t finish specifying an infinitely long specification string.

      This infinite barrier to a complete causal account of the past of any occasion is the epistemological aspect of the infinite gap that yawns between all definite actual occasions and the as yet inactual, indefinite novelty of the future. It is but one of the many such reasons why only God can create: only God can surmount that infinitely high epistemological barrier.

      That the future is indefinite, and therefore not yet determined, and thus indeterminate, does not however mean that it is somehow irrational, or chaotic. All the potential futures are rationally related to each other, and to the past of our world. How do we know? Because God has eternally generated and contemplated them all, and understood their relations; and God is perfectly rational.

      Likewise, that the procedure that selects the specific potential future that will be actualized is stochastic does not mean that it is irrational. Stochasm is not irrational. An archer taking aim at a mark is not irrational. Nor does the fact that he might miss indicate that any aspect of the shot is disordered or irrational. It means only that the archer cannot determine the future. And once again, the reason is the same: he cannot complete the process of an exhaustive, perfect accounting of all the causal factors of his shot, so that his shot can be perfect. Only God can do that; only God cannot err.

      So, bottom line, I would amend your statement from “Nature is deterministic while supernatural is rational and not stochastic,” to “the actual past is determined – is permanently settled – while the future, as originating in Supernature – i.e., in God – is in the first place rationally ordered by virtue of his omnipotent, perfectly rational power to ordain, and limited in respect to the potentials of its eventuation only by God’s understanding of what is rationally compossible with our past.”

      Because the future cannot be known by creatures (except insofar as they are able to apprehend it in God), it seems to me that it is indeed possible to affirm both realism and the Copenhagen Interpretation. What is real is what is actual. This includes all that has happened, including God and his knowledge of what shall come to pass, and of what could otherwise have come to pass – his Middle Knowledge.

      The Copenhagen Interpretation treats our merely creaturely knowledge of the past as only indefinitely indicating to us what will happen. It says, “the past is what it is, and we can tell something about the future by reference thereto, but on the one hand our knowledge of the past is not perfect, and even if it were, we could not simply tell the future by reference thereto.” This doesn’t seem like a radical, paradoxical notion to me. Indeed, it sounds like common sense.

      I think Bohr would have been the very first to agree that there is an ontological hole in the Copenhagen Interpretation, because he says again and again, in the most careful, disciplined way, that quantum mechanics is not a formalization of reality, but of our knowledge of reality. He treats it as an epistemological theory, not as an ontology. The ultimate nature of the ontology, he insists, is seen by us only as through a glass, darkly.

      • I prefer the indeterminism in nature to arise solely from the actions of rational creatures. The freedom of rational creatures REQUIRE a deterministic background. If you are trying to smuggle in free will somehow through the loopholes of quantum mechanics, I predict it is not going to work.

        It would be worthwhile to discuss the critique of quantum mechanics that CS Lewis makes in the last chapter of The Discarded Image along with Father Jaki’s critique in Miracles and Physics.

      • I think we are saying the same thing. The deterministic background we agree is required is, I am saying, the wholly determined past and the wholly definite set of potential futures. The rational creature selects from among that wholly definite set of futures, thus determining a new set of wholly determined actual facts. The selection is stochastic, but this is *not* to say that it is chaotic or irrational. Stochastic procedures are constrained by a solution space, which is an order. The exploration of that solution space *can* proceed by undirected trial and error, or it can proceed according to some algorithm using the dimensions of the solution space as arguments. Either way, the search of the solution space is not irrational. This is obvious when the search pattern is the output of an algorithm. But even if the search is undirected trial and error, that proceeds until it happens to arrive at the solution, it is rational, in just the way that a man is rational when stumbling about in pitch blackness looking for the door of a room he doesn’t know at all, apart from the existence of the door.

        I’m not trying to use QM as a set of loopholes. I’m not using it for anything. I’m only taking note of the fact that, as it happens, QM agrees with the metaphysical analysis I present.

        Here’s the thing: if the future is wholly determined, then there is only one future possible, and there is never anything to be chosen. In that case, there simply are no decisions in the first place, whether rational creatures are involved or not; and so the question whether decisions are somehow free cannot even arise.

        All that said, I have read neither Miracles and Physics nor The Discarded Image. It is clear that I should, and I am eager to do so. Thanks for both these recommendations. I look forward to their arrival from Amazon on Thursday!

      • It seems you are discounting the non-computable aspects of human intelligence. The mind being immaterial, the essence of rationality, the judgment etc are non-computable.
        You seem to burrow a lot of a lot of notions and terminology from neuroscience. You are surely aware of their naturalistic assumptions.

        Would you not agree that the essence of rationality is judgment and not some algorithmic process? The human judgment can not be entirely algorithmized.

      • It seems you are discounting the non-computable aspects of human intelligence.

        How? What did I say that gave that impression? Seems to me that I have been hammering away at the opposite notion. Again and again I talk about how the decisions of the free agent are indeterminable ex ante. I talk about how only God can surpass the infinite epistemological barrier that separates us from a full specification of the past. Etc.

        You seem to burrow a lot of a lot of notions and terminology from neuroscience. You are surely aware of their naturalistic assumptions.

        Where? What terms did I borrow from neuroscience? Even if I did, what would be wrong with that? Are terms contaminated just because a naturalist uses them? How?

        Would you not agree that the essence of rationality is judgment and not some algorithmic process?

        Yes. I say it again and again in the post and in my comments responding to yours, in one way or another.

  3. Well you do give the metaphor of searching a solution space: “The exploration of that solution space *can* proceed by undirected trial and error, or it can proceed according to some algorithm using the dimensions of the solution space as arguments. Either way, the search of the solution space is not irrational.”

    Don’t you agree that you have defined a computable process? And computable processes are deterministic!

    Stochastic in the sense of random (the dominant sense in physics) is deterministic. And stochastic in the sense of ‘uncaused’ does not reach at the essence of rationality. A rational process or decision has a cause, but a rational cause, not a physical cause.
    This is treated by CS Lewis in Miracles.

    The free will is a mystery, an irruption of supernatural into the natural order. You perhaps lean towards compatibilism, but that seems an explaining away of the free will.

    • No, a stochastic search of a solution space is *not* computable, except ex post. Nor is it deterministic. If it was deterministic, it wouldn’t be stochastic. The whole point of grappling with stochastic processes is that they are not deterministic, even though they may be very well behaved – regular, homeostatic, ordered (i.e., rational) and so forth. If it is orderly enough, the search procedure may be amenable to specification, – i.e., you may be able to specify the steps of the procedure, so that you have a recipe for performing it, an algorithm – or it may not (as would be the case with, say, a gas “exploring” the solution space of a problem “in order” to find the aperture. But either way the behavior of the searching system is not going to be determinable ex ante; it is, i.e., precisely *not* determined.

      So it is just false to say that “stochastic in the sense of random … is deterministic.” To see that clearly, consider only the last three words of your statement just quoted: “random is deterministic.” That’s like saying, “positive is negative,” or “true is false.”

      It must be remembered that random does not mean simply disordered or irrational, but undetermined. Stochastic procedures are not ipso facto irrational, not fundamentally disordered. If they were, they could not ever be specifiable in algorithms.

      I don’t dispute the existence of rational supernatural causal factors of stochastic searches. Indeed, I point out above that such factors are implicit in every instance of becoming. That a stochastic procedure is not determined by the causal inputs of its past does not mean that it is not 100% rationally caused. It just means that not all its rational causes derive from its actual past.

      Compatibilism, comschmatibilism. I’m a Whiteheadian and a Thomist. I think becoming as such is undetermined and teleological, intentional; and that, because the telos peculiar to each particular occasion is unique, and thus not to be found anywhere in the actual past, there is in each occasion a transcendent influx.

      • “If it is orderly enough, the search procedure may be amenable to specification”

        It is a procedure precisely because it is specified.

        In physics, stochastic is not opposed to deterministic. The classical motion of gas molecules are determined yet random. The randomness is always with respect to our knowledge.
        Randomness implies lack of the detailed specification of the configuration, thus we can not predict the precise evolution of the system.Yet the system is totally deterministic.

        For instance, the example you give of , a gas “exploring” the solution space of a problem “in order” to find the aperture., this problem is computable, deterministic yet stochastic.

        I think the equivocations in the term “determined” need to be explored more fully.

      • The reason we can’t calculate the future behavior of a gas molecule is not that there is some information about it that we can’t get at, but that the information isn’t out there. You can’t get information about something that doesn’t exist, because what doesn’t exist has no form. If the information about the future of a gas molecule were out there, completely implicit in the information about its past, then so would that future be out there, wholly implicit in that past. In that case, past and future moments in the life of the molecule would be just sections of a solid, integral unity. But in that case, the future moments in the life of the molecule would be really just different aspects of its past. There would be no disparate events in the life of the molecule. That life would be given as a single event.

        Likewise also for a world constituted of such particles.

        There would in such a world be no room for the ingress of novelty from transcendent sources exogenous thereto, whether from God, or other supernatural things, or from the rational judgements of immaterial human minds. There being no novelty, there would be no freedom. Indeed, because what does not act is not ever actual, individual events within that world system would not actually exist. There would be no particular things, but only one thing. Such a world would have no disparate entities that had causal relations. It would not therefore be causally ordered. There being in such a world neither past nor future, then neither, obviously, could there be any asymmetry between past and future. But this means that there would be no entropy; nor, therefore, any information, or so any minds.

        If the evolution of the world is wholly pre-determined by its actual past, there are no minds in it. There are minds. So the evolution of the world is not pre-determined by its actual past.

        There is therefore room in the world for information, knowledge, rationality, freedom; for novelty, for choices among real options; for the real causal contributions of immaterial minds, for purposes, ends, and values.

        Now it seems to me that this gets you, and me, and Dr. Charlton where we want to go. I’m not sure what the problem is, then.

        As to the relation between deterministic and random elements of stochastic procedures, I would simply refer you to the Wikipedia article linked above. The random factors of stochastic procedures are not chaotic. Random does not mean disordered. It means undetermined. That is, it means “not wholly caused by factors of the past.” That not all the causal factors of events are present in their actual pasts does not mean that events are in part uncaused, or chaotic, or irrational; it means only that they are not fully caused by their actual pasts. Thus even though they be generated by stochastic procedures whose output is not entirely predicable on their pasts, ex ante – or, ergo, calculable – they can be 100% rationally caused.

      • “The reason we can’t calculate the future behavior of a gas molecule is not that there is some information about it that we can’t get at, but that the information isn’t out there”

        Is it your Physics speaking or metaphysics?

        Classically or quantum mechanically, future behavior of particles is calculated all the time. You see particles have no agency, so it can be done. When particles interact with agents, things are more complex, but as CS Lewis suggests in Miracles, the nature is such that it adjusts to the supernatural. The laws of physics say if A, then B. The supernatural merely changes initial condition A to A’.

        “Likewise also for a world constituted of such particles. ”

        Here is your metaphysics clashing with your physics. You wish to hold both atomism and Thomism. But their consistency, even if it exists, is not going to be obvious.

        Clearly, you don’t hold with a demarcation of natural and supernatural realms. You want a consistent explanation of ALL at ONCE. But how is this denial of a natural realm consistent with the spirit of Thomism, I don’t know.

      • The thinking may led astray by using inapt metaphors. The image of searching a solution space is not always a good metaphor for human rationality. For one thing, this search can be put into an algorithmic form. A machine can search this solution space. Another objection is that this metaphor is static. Humans beings are creative being made in the image of a Creator.-this point is emphasized in the Mind of the Maker (Dorothy Sayers-when the Genesis talks about man being made in the image of God, all we know of God is he is a Creator).

        Graceful conduct is creative. It is not enough to merely follow moral prohibitions. And this is the way out of evil–to bring out good from bad. Dorothy Sayers gives examples. A man does evil by bowdlerizing Shakespeare. And we bring good from this evil by laughing at him.

        Now this creative aspects are not brought out at all in the mechanical metaphors.

      • Classically or quantum mechanically, future behavior of particles is calculated all the time.

        Yes; but the predictions thus derived are probabilistic. There is play in the world, degrees of freedom. Even macroscopic procedures are startlingly inexact. If you put a perfect steel ball at the top of a grooved track set up like a ski jump, you can calculate where you should tape a sandwich of paper, carbon paper and paper on the floor so that the ball will land on the top sheet, and so that the carbon paper in the middle will make a mark on the bottom sheet of paper with every impact. But when you carry out the experiment with a number of trials with exactly the same setup, you find that while the ball has always landed on the paper, it has made a cluster of marks on the bottom sheet, rather than the single dot you expected.

        If you perfect your setup, you can eliminate such variations in the results, at least in principle. This perfection involves isolating the setup more and more from influences arising from the rest of the world. In the limit, you get a physical system that approaches the pure expression of its mathematical formalization. But when you actually arrive at that limit, you run into the Uncertainty Relation. The probabilistic behavior of reals goes all the way down; reality appears to be stochastic, through and through.

        … nature is such that it adjusts to the supernatural. The laws of physics say if A, then B. The supernatural merely changes initial condition A to A’.

        Sure. But this means that nature and supernature are both domains of a single system. If they were not, then nature could never “feel” the influx from supernature so as to make this sort of adjustment. That nature and supernature share certain characteristics – e.g., the character of existing – does not mean that they are exactly the same sort of thing.

        Further, if the evolution of the natural world were wholly pre-determined by actual factors of its past, then there would be no possibility of the sort of adjustment that Lewis – and I – notice. Things that are wholly determined are not capable of adjustment, of any sort whatsoever. The *only* way that you can find room in nature for such adjustments is if you admit that nature is not wholly pre-determined in its evolutions.

        You wish to hold both atomism and Thomism. But their consistency, even if it exists, is not going to be obvious.

        Where’s the inconsistency? It isn’t obvious to me. So far as I can tell, Thomist metaphysics works beautifully for worlds composed of disparate entities – which is the only sort of atomism I find compelling. I do, to be sure, accept the physical existence of atoms, but I don’t believe that the only sorts of entities that exist are the smallest ones we can discover, or infer; i.e., I think that corporeal things like chairs and historical events like the Crucifixion are real. There is more to the world than individual vibrations of strings in Calabi-Yau spaces. There are persons, and chairs. An event in the life of a person is an indivisible integrity – while we can analyze its constituents, it cannot *in practice* be decomposed thereunto, for such a decomposition would result in the non-existence of that event. The person as we really encounter him, and as he really is, is an integrity. The same is true even for corporeal assemblages such as chairs. Disaggregate a chair into its constituents, and you no longer have a chair. So in a sense the chair and the person are atoms: integral wholes. They can survive our conceptual analyses, but not our actual disaggregations. But this is an atomism that is not usually named as such; usually it is called just (as, e.g., by William James) pluralism: the belief that the world is composed of parts.

        Clearly, you don’t hold with a demarcation of natural and supernatural realms.

        But I do hold with such a demarcation. The natural is what has already come to pass in some world; the supernatural is everything else.

        You want a consistent explanation of ALL at ONCE.

        Metaphysics just is a consistent explanation of all at once.

        But how is this denial of a natural realm consistent with the spirit of Thomism, I don’t know.

        That the supernatural and natural realms interact intelligibly, so that we can arrive at a metaphysics, does not at all entail the denial of their differences, or of the existence of either one.

        The thinking may led astray by using inapt metaphors.

        You have not yet shown how my thinking has gone astray. All you have done is confuse what I have actually said with various interpretations thereof (not that this is blameworthy – metaphysics is complex, and its discourse depends on mutual agreement on carefully defined terms), which I have one by one either disavowed or cleared away. For the most part, what I have been trying to do is explain how we essentially agree – how, e.g., I am not a mechanist, simpliciter; nor, likewise, a Democritean atomist, nor a scientistic naturalist, etc.

        The image of searching a solution space is not always a good metaphor for human rationality. For one thing, this search can be put into an algorithmic form. A machine can search this solution space.

        A machine can search a solution space only as programmed and operated to do so – i.e., only as an intentionally designed instrument of some free rational intelligence. Without a programmer and an operator, a Turing Machine will just sit there and do nothing at all, qua machine. Machines, then – and, ergo, natural procedures in general, to the extent that they behave mechanically – are just material instantiations of the free rational operations of intelligent agents. I should think you would welcome this result!

        But never mind all that. It’s only a metaphor. One ought not to get hung up on it. Does the notion of a stochastic search of a solution space exhaustively characterize human experience? Of course not. No specification can exhaustively characterize any real. But what this notion does do is give us a way to reconcile freedom with order, and the influx to the process of becoming from sources exogenous to the actual past – from, i.e., supernature – of utterly novel conceptual forms.

  4. Bruce Charlton’s problem is too uncritical acceptance of certain scientific notions such as IQ along with a certain impatience with established theological notions. Seemingly, he judges things, even Christianity, by their stance on political correctness.

    “room for our free agency in a system of things that seems otherwise, as wholly determinate in and by its derivation from some past, and ultimately by and from God, to provide none.”

    That the system of things is wholly determinate is not common sense. It is an extrapolation from physics but physics deals with inanimate nature. So this extrapolation to the system of things that include animate and even rational creatures is unjustified. Then he brings in God as an obstacle to our free agency, contra the Christian philosophy that sees God as the giver, the gift-er, the ground of our free agency.

    PS the word ‘determinate’ is equivocal. You are using in the sense that what has happened, has happened and can not un-happen. While I use it in the sense that events in the natural order are fixed by previous events in the natural order. That is, the Newtonian world view.

  5. “you run into the Uncertainty Relation. ”

    This is what is contested by Stanley Jaki and whose discussion I could not find elsewhere.
    Hopefully, we could resume the discussion after you have read his book.

    “if the evolution of the natural world were wholly pre-determined by actual factors of its past, then there would be no possibility of the sort of adjustment”
    You are not noticing the proviso that the natural system be undisturbed by the agents. To me, it is a straightforward requirement: unless the agents find a predictable background, their acts would lack meaning. Strictly speaking, action would be impossible for agents.

    • Well, the book arrived this evening; I’ll take a stab at it this weekend, and then maybe I’ll see a different way to show you how you and Jaki agree with me!

      Agreed that acts cannot be coordinated to a world that is not itself first coherently ordered. But there is a difference between saying that coordinated action requires a regular, or well-behaved, or lawful world for its proscenium, and saying that it requires a world that is *perfectly predictable to the nth degree.* The latter rules out novelty; rules out anything that a rational agent might do that was not already completely implicit in the world. It reduces the actors on the stage of history to nothing but elements of the set.

      As to the principle that the natural system may not be disturbed by the agents, if what that means is that agents may not do anything at all to the world, may not affect its course of development, then it is equivalent to saying that the agents may not do anything at all, period full stop. But if what it means is that the agents cannot change what has already happened, then yes, of course. One participates in a world in conformity thereto. No agent will get very far if he jumps into a world and loudly disagrees with all the other players therein about the basic rules of the game, like gravity.

  6. Pingback: Freedom is Extramundane | The Orthosphere

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